Gophers adjusting to being on top

Almost halfway into conference play, the Gophers are in first place in the Big Ten.

Freshman April Bockin dribbles the ball down the field at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on Sept. 11 against the New Mexico Lobos.

Image by Melissa Scharf / Daily File Photo

Freshman April Bockin dribbles the ball down the field at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on Sept. 11 against the New Mexico Lobos.

by Kaitlin Merkel

With six games remaining in the regular season for the Gophers soccer team, Minnesota remains atop the conference standings in the Big Ten.
The Gophers (9-2-2, 4-1 Big Ten) are also ranked No. 14 nationally in the NSCAA coaches poll.
“I think a lot of it is due to the consistency of the performances,” Minnesota head coach Stefanie Golan said. “After the Ohio State and Penn State weekend, people were waiting for us to have a hangover … to come back and score six goals over the course of two games [the next weekend] really made people take notice, which you could see with the move in the rankings.” 
Before this season — in which the Gophers have been ranked as high as No. 11 — the last time Minnesota was nationally ranked in the top 25 was during the 2010 season.
This season marks the first time the Gophers have been ranked in Golan’s tenure.
This season also marks the first time Minnesota has had sole possession of first place in the Big Ten since 2008 when the team won the conference title.
Golan said this season’s success is helping change the program’s reputation.
“I think that our team did a great job of understanding that we have a lot to prove. We are Minnesota, and people don’t expect us to be where we are,” Golan said. “We want [this] to be the standard.”
Co-captain and senior defender Haley Helverson said the rankings can make Minnesota a target for other teams.
“We’ve always been seen as the underdog, and I think that this year we’re really striving to push that, to change the face of Gophers soccer,” Helverson said. “We are definitely excited that we are finally getting the attention we deserve, but that also comes with understanding that teams are coming at us, and we are the team to beat in the Big Ten right now.”
Freshman forward April Bockin said the rankings mean teams are also better prepared to face the Gophers.
“People aren’t used to seeing us [ranked],” Bockin said. “Now that we have the rankings, teams know we’re good, and so they bring their best game.”
Golan said it can be a challenge to learn how to handle the recognition.
“[The biggest challenge is] teaching a young team that hasn’t experienced this level of success,” Golan said. “It’s helping them to understand that pressure is a privilege — that it’s something that you earn.”
Minnesota hasn’t seemed to let the pressure affect their play on the field so far, outscoring opponents 25-7 and outshooting opponents 164-112 cumulatively on the season.
Golan said the coaching staff is stressing offensive consistency for the rest of the season, especially after a 1-0 shutout loss to unranked University of Wisconsin-Madison last weekend.
“That was the struggle against Wisconsin — we did a lot of things well during the game, but we couldn’t get to that final piece which has been a tremendous strength of ours,” Golan said. “We are making that a huge emphasis this week, and we except it to be able to translate over.”